Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dialing L-4235

There’s something to be said about mountain living. That unspoiled air, void of traffic noise, deer grazing idly on the property. I can blabber on about the positives of moving here. Even the water from our well is tasty enough to get me off my Diet Coke addiction. But, along with the gains come the concessions, I suppose. And being the technogeek that I am, nothing prepared me for the backwards step I was forced to take to remain connected to the outside world. The first thing I noticed was that my cell phone reception degraded from ‘full bars’ to ‘SOS’ as soon as I crested that last ridge about a half mile from home. So I researched a way to capture that fleeting signal. I bought the portable repeater station and the recommended external antenna for the frequency range of my cell service (Cingular/AT&T, whatever their name is this week). I found that the antenna needed a special adaptor to connect to the base station, so I drove to the local Radio Shack only to learn that I had purchased the wrong items for the frequency in my coverage area (I assumed it was in the 850 MHz range when it was in fact 1900 MHz). To make matters even more frustrating, there was no such adaptor, and I had to build my own from three other adaptors. Then I returned the base and the antenna and reordered the 1900 mHz gear, only to discover that I wouldn’t be able to get a signal after all.

Second was the internet. Aspen and I haven’t had a home phone in almost seven years, and since only DSL was offered in this area, we had to regress to a land line to get internet service. I had ordered the full package, assuming I would be able to drop the phone service down to a data line once I got my mini cell tower up and running. I didn’t volunteer our home phone number to family and friends because I was confident I’d soon be returning to cell service. Of course, the new carrier ensured that my first three bills wouldn’t total less than $400. Our names went into the local phone directory, and we began to receive telemarketing calls. We resorted to borrowing an old desk phone from one of our new neighbors just to receive calls. He had to dig through the attic of his garage to find it, and casually mentioned that this area had a party line as late as 1985 (back when the entire neighborhood had to share a single phone line). Finally admitting defeat, I picked up a phone with built-in answering machine at Home Depot for about $40.

Next was television. Most of our neighbors had ‘The Dish’, but we had just moved from an area with broadband cable TV, and our monthly bill was roughly $13. I was not about to get sucked into another package deal. Plus, ordering all those channels is like saying, “Yes, I’ll take some of that heroin, please.” Instead we chose the antenna route, hoping it would prevent us from whiling away our leisure hours in front of the boob tube. At first I employed the rudimentary method of making my own antenna out of speaker wire and aluminum foil, then Scotch-taping it to the large window of our living room, college-style. We received maybe three channels clearly, and one Sunday I was able to pick up the audio signal from FOX long enough to hear the Packers beat Minnesota. I finally relented and bought the last outdoor antenna ever made, spent an entire afternoon affixing it to our rooftop, then crawled through a fiberglass and fly carcass-infested attic to feed the cable through the opposite side of the house to the living room. The antenna only improved the clarity of the three channels we were already getting and could not yet harness my beloved FOX. Not to be outdone by the neighbors, I added a remote-controlled antenna rotor, and now we get seven channels in all their glory (still no FOX). Gone are the days where I could just plug the TV cable into a socket on the wall or retrieve email while on the throne. Here are the days of gravity-fed electrons trickling into my wannabe technofortress. Ah, the simple life.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Returning to the Groove

My piece on The System and David Frank ('The Founding Father of Electronic R&B') was a great success, eliciting input from the man himself. I hope to interview him in the coming months, where my theory that he was responsible for Scritti Politti’s breakthrough sound can be put to the test. Stay tuned!

The System - X-Periment (1984)

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Run Through Time, Part II

Continued from Part I......

I spent the first few miles of the descent attending to wardrobe malfunctions, removing excess clothing, etc. Chris and Dave continued on while I paused at various points to absorb the views of the outer reaches of the canyon. I was also not as adept at navigating the downhills as my counterparts, and took the opportunity to set a more comfortable pace. The cliffs were blanketed by a full moon, and I instinctively doused my headlamp when conditions allowed. I’ve run many trails in complete darkness, trusting that each footprint would be laid upon stable ground. However, a single misstep on this choppy route would have sent me tumbling into the canyon, and I chose my darkness wisely. An hour and a half later we reached the footbridge crossing the Colorado River. I stopped to take photos, but none would capture the quiet fury of the Colorado, nor the temporary ownership we had gained of this (imaginary) space. My heart raced not to the pace of the run, but to the sheer elation of reaching this point, exposed to some of the oldest rocks on the planet. Dave unloaded a portion of food for the return trip near the water stop on the north side of the river. I had planned to do the same, but once there I felt I could carry the full load up the other side and back. I made a concerted effort to drink as often as possible, after suffering through several heat stroke episodes over the past few years. Fortunately, my saving grace was traveling with a group who were like-minded and equally concerned about staying hydrated.

Our uphill leg kicked off in earnest, with Chris taking the reins, and me bringing up the rear. After many hikes or runs with my wife and friends, I’ve always been more comfortable moving at someone else’s speed, rather than dictating it. I rarely lead unless asked, and this removes the pressure of guessing on a suitable pace. At the time, Chris’ tempo was perfect for the conditions at hand, and we proceeded toward Phantom Ranch in agreeable silence. Once at the ranch, the trail began to braid through the underbrush. Several times we dead-ended at Bright Angel Creek, or the route simply disappeared. I’ve been in a few trail races where I’m with a small group, and we suddenly realize we’re off track. I can imagine a spectator watching a bunch of goobs jogging around in circles like mice trapped in a maze, desperately searching an exit as precious seconds tick off the timer. Somehow, it feels unnatural at this point to simply stop and assess one’s predicament. Our private goat rodeo was further exacerbated by the delightful fragrances emanating from the mule guides’ kitchen, and we groaned in unison when comparing the notion of a sit-down cowboy breakfast to the lifeless, inorganic task of ingesting another gel. Reluctantly fleeing this siren’s odor, we quickly pointed our nostrils in the general direction of the North Rim, and I substituted an appetite for those greasy victuals with that of some uphill running. The first several miles comprised the gentlest grade of the stretch, and I spent the remainder of the North Kaibab leg on my own, hoping to achieve my goal of running at least the first R2. I was wearing a wrist GPS, but the satellites couldn’t keep me on track, so I used the unit to monitor my heart rate instead. The initial five or six miles were fairly effortless, and the quiet was so deep that I swear I could hear the moonlight. The din was briefly interrupted by critters moving about, probably confused by this biped ambling through their backyards. I squelched the headlamp on several more occasions when the trail peeked out into the reflected light from under the sheer cliffs. The purity of this moment was almost too overwhelming to grasp, and I found myself at times in peaceful synchronicity with my surroundings. The synch would not last, however, as I plunged that first step into a small marshy area about five miles into the ascent. My unplanned arrival sparked the dispersal of a couple resident mammals attending to a small spring-fed pond. One scurried off into the cattails and the other made what I can only describe as a ‘submerging sound’. The time was around 4 AM, and I’m sure they weren’t expecting a human to interrupt their nocturnal forays. Once reaching dry ground, I took account of my shoes in the soulless glow of my headlamp. Not only were they soaked to the core with swamp water, but I had also accumulated some sort of residue on my skin from mid-calf south. I wisely chose not to remove it with bare hands and went on my way in mild disgust. Soon the trail began to rise in the direction of up, starting with an abrupt climb to Ribbon Falls on what is called Heartbreak Hill. It was here I made the first of several judgment errors that would cut short my intended route. I assumed that if I maintained a steady, comfortable pace, I could manage running the entire first 21+ miles of the R3. Up to this point I was feeling exceptionally strong. The temps were such that my liquid intake may well have been adequate, for a change. Why not just hammer through this section? The answer to this na├»ve supposition was to be revealed about 2.5 miles from the North Rim, to be illustrated later.

Reaching the crest of this unforgiving mound I turned to survey the canyon below. Immediately, I recognized Chris’ headlamp signaling me from a distance. I flashed in return and continued on my way, enjoying a brief decent in this relentless climb. Recalling this moment, I wonder if the unassuming left fork at the base of Heartbreak Hill would have skirted this feature altogether. Regardless, the die had been cast, and my determination to reach the rim at a conversational pace became all-consuming. Beyond Ribbon Falls, the trail returned to a more manageable grade. I stopped briefly at Wall Creek to drink deeply from its waters and refill my handheld. Despite warnings by all, I’ve drunk from many streams and puddles much more questionable than this, with no ill effects. Today was no exception. Ambling on, I arrived at Cottonwood Camp, still optimistic. As expected, the water tap at this location had been turned off for the season. I wasn’t greatly concerned as I had just tanked up at Wall Creek. A few campers had already begun their preparations for the day, and I greeted them warmly after talking to myself for the better part of two hours. Beyond the camp, the grade increased, as did my heart rate and general anxiety. Still, I pushed on to the Ranger House, which accommodated a tap reportedly disconnected but operational upon my arrival. The water quickly filled my handheld, and I casually splashed the remaining trickles onto my face. By now, the subtle hints of daybreak began to emerge from within the greater canyon. I was six miles from the rim, ready to greet the sun like a long-lost friend.

Coming up: The Supai Deathmarch. Work is Work. Rangers, Then Cops!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Disturbing the Groove

Every once in a while a song graces my Jetta that I’ve heard a thousand times, but inexplicably resonates with me on that 1,001st play. Recently, it was Don’t Disturb This Groove by The System. I remember when this song dominated the airwaves and had long dismissed the track until a few days ago, when it arrived unannounced on a random iPod mix. (I’m a huge ‘old school’ R&B fan and have one of those ‘ancient’ 20-giggers packed to the gills with various styles of music, so the chances of a previously unplayed track popping up in a mix are quite good.) I proceeded to set the iPod to ‘Repeat’ and systematically dissect the workings of the song during my long commute from work. Once home, I did a 'net search on The System, a band I knew nothing about. According to wikipedia.com and davidfrankmusic.com, The System was singer Mic Murphy and keyboardist David Frank. A proficient pianist, Frank’s creative seeds were sewn at an early age and cultivated through gigs as a touring musician, eventually dovetailing into progressively substantial endeavors that not only forged his immense talents but financed his penchant for the most cutting-edge synths. Frank’s career began to take flight when Atlantic Records soul/funk band Kleeer enlisted him as their tour keyboardist. The band's road manager, Mic Murphy, asked Frank to sit in on some informal recording sessions, and at the time, Frank was unaware that Murphy could sing. The sessions afforded Frank the opportunity to record some of his own material, including a track called It's Passion. The song was presented to a pre-stardom Madonna who eventually passed on vocal duties due to creative differences. Recalling Murphy, Frank invited him to his loft to work on the track, where Murphy reworked the lyrics and melody. The two then entered the studio, recorded the song in one day, and spent the night mixing the recording. After their overnight session, Murphy delivered the master tape to an engineer friend who transferred the tape onto a 12" acetate record and suggested he present it to Mirage Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic. The next day, Murphy called to inform Frank that the duo had a record deal. Two days later, Murphy created the name The System, and within three weeks, It's Passion was receiving massive radio airplay in New York. (If only it were still that easy).

The follow-up single, You Are in My System (November 1982), took the same magic path, spreading to key markets around the country, and early 1983 saw the release of their debut album Sweat. They went on to release X-Periment in 1984 and The Pleasure Seekers in 1986, to increasing acclaim, leading to soundtrack appearances on Miami Vice, Coming To America, and Beverly Hills Cop. But it wasn’t until 1987, upon the release of the title track for the album Don’t Disturb This Groove, did The System’s profile begin to skyrocket. The track went to #1 on the Billboard R&B charts and #3 on the Hot 100. The duo followed the hit with several more singles and two albums, including 1989’s Rhythm and Romance and the 1990 reunion album ESP, although none of the ensuing releases would achieve the blistering success of Don't Disturb This Groove. However, their fresh approach put The System in high demand as producers/songwriters and musicians. The deft imprint of The System can be heard on Chaka Khan's I Feel For You, Mtume's Juicy Fruit (both certified Gold), and Phil Collins' Sussudio, where Frank’s trademark sporadic synth bassline permeates this substantial hit by the Genesis frontman. Frank’s production sensibilities eventually led him to much greater heights, producing Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle and other releases by a bevy of A-line acts.

The System - Don't Disturb This Groove (1987)



The System followed a path shared by many electronic acts of the eighties, but their meteoric rise laid claim to unique attributes absent from the sounds pushed by other artists in the scene. The System's design was no fluke, rather it represented the ultimate interracial cooperative, advancing a divine essence derived from the blend of cultural backgrounds that cannot be matched by imitation alone. It must have been plainly evident to Murphy and Frank that this synergy would quickly dissolve if one of the components were to be removed. In 1987, the ingredients forging the chemistry between them could not have been more precisely measured, culminating in the choral refrains of Don’t Disturb This Groove. The structure of the song was meticulously manicured, joyfully bouncing between major to minor within a single phrase. Murphy’s vox were spot on pitch, with no ulterior weaknesses commonly disguised by current softcopy wizardry. Sure, the production in itself is a bit dated for today’s tastes. That slamming snare has been mercifully absent from recordings for years. But Frank was employing progressive technology at the time, including the Fairlight and what sounds like a Yamaha DX-7. These boards lent The System’s sound a somewhat freeze-dried flavor. But it was Frank’s use of synth fragments is what carried the track into such an ethereal bent, as the song is built upon dozens of solo parts, each having its turn in the spotlight, while sprinkled onto the body of the mix like a fragrant powder. On the surface, the bassline appears to run random, with no detectable purpose other than to fill the spaces within. But upon subsequent spins I recognized a very intricate pattern not unlike the typical bassline by another one of my favorite eighties bands, Scritti Politti. Only upon further research did I discover that the basslines from Scritti’s critically acclaimed Cupid and Psyche ’85 were Frank’s (he was hired as a session musician for the recording of the album). I also dialed in some uncanny arrangement similarities between Don’t Disturb This Groove and Scritti’s Perfect Way, or for that matter, any track on Cupid and Psyche. I wonder about the degree of Frank’s influence on this recording (or vice versa), since his involvement remains poorly documented on the web. What speaks for itself, however, is the enduring quality of this truly timeless tune. I just wish I had caught this groove the first time around.

Junk Mail Mayhem

One of the few pleasures in receiving new homeowner junk mail is the errant offer that includes an envelope marked ‘POSTAGE TO BE PAID BY ADDRESSEE’. As far as I’m concerned, this is an invitation to wreak havoc upon the companies who blindly ply their trade to recent home buyers like myself. In fact, I open every envelope disguised as a certified letter with tempered anticipation, hoping to reveal of one of these Golden Tickets. The ‘addressees’ are expecting from me a form complete with all of my personal information, naively confident that their product will help me through this volatile economic climate. Instead, they receive a First Class paperweight, stuffed with small, metallic items found around the house. The best are large flat washers, or any other flat piece of metal. Bolts, nuts, allen wrenches - only the heavy stuff will do. I ensure that the envelope weighs at least a pound or so before securing it with tape and gently placing it in the mailbox like a stick of old dynamite. I’m sure the item never makes it through the mail sorter at the local postal facility, but the prospect of it reaching its destination is satisfying nonetheless. I’d like to picture the recipient exclaiming ‘WTF??’ and lobbing it into the nearest garbage can, then tabulating the ensuing postal fees augmented by my ‘letter’ and all of the others returned in the same condition. Eventually, they’ll figure it out and stop sending junk mail altogether. Maybe not.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Into the Wild

This past weekend, Aspen and I saw the movie Into the Wild. It’s a true story about the travels of Chris McCandless, who eschews his affluent upbringing to experience the country as a vagabond. His final destination – Alaska. Without exposing too much of the plot, I was relieved to find that the movie closely followed the book. I remember reading author Jon Krakauer’s article about McCandless in Outside Magazine some years ago and was deeply impacted by the newfound morals that evolved from McCandless’ idealism. At the time, I was single, living apart from most of my family and had no real ties to my surroundings. The thought of disappearing, leaving all creature comforts behind, struck a chord with me, and I fantasized about where I would visit first. Of course, this was only a fleeting desire, since I also envisioned the devastation this would impose upon those who loved me. Still, the thought of Aspen, Nick and I ditching the rat race for a life of tramping has some lingering appeal, although I’m sure my alma mater’s alumni association would still find a way to track me down.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cellphone Stinkbombers

The other day I purchased a few items from the local electronics store. I’d guess that their clientele represent a healthy cross-section of computer users: The Dockers-wearing guy with the Bluetooth earpiece and belt clip full of access cards; the chunky dude with the full-on beard and squarish, wire-rimed glasses buying a new graphics card to run the latest online tournament game; the wide-eyed couple with an armload of iPod accessories, etc. Normally, I’m focused on the task at hand and rarely notice the calm chaos around me. But on this day, a certain distasteful odor permeated my personal space, leaving me gasping for oxygen and retribution. I’m sure many of you have experienced what I’m about to describe: The ‘Wandering Shopper’s Cell Phone Conversation’. The offender is usually engulfed in an animated conversation with someone who appears to be hard of hearing, throwing out technical terms only recognizable to those in his business unit, all while strolling down each aisle with no real purpose or direction. I liken it to someone ripping a nasty fart and proceeding to walk through the entire store, dragging this wicked stink on a leash for all to enjoy. With professional stinkbombers, the conversation is usually nursed through the checkout process, past the exit doors and into the parking lot. If I were an unscrupulous cashier, I would slip a theft surveillance tag into their bag. After all, these people want to be the center of attention, why not give it to them in the form of a shoplifting alarm?

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Run Through Time, Part I

I recently returned from a long-planned run across the Grand Canyon. Yeah, it’s been done before, and yes, I had counted on making the return trip, but alas, it was not to be. The whole experience, from the moment we pulled away from our new home, to those squinty hours when you just want to get out of the car and go to bed, was a typical spectrum of good fortune through moments best kept subdued.

Shortly into that first night of Wednesday, October 24th, as we pulled into a Subway in Buena Vista, my wife and I bantered about in our usual manner, and the inevitable subject came up of ‘being lucky that we’ve never hit a large mammal’. A couple hours later, I was plucking loose parts of what used to be our Forerunner’s front bumper after taking out a young male deer at 55 MPH. I’m quite certain he was killed instantly, although I have heard of deer walking away from collisions at even faster speeds. I did not stop to find out. Thankfully, none of us was injured (the unGuy didn’t even wake up and the dogs were none the worse for wear), and the car even survived another 1500 miles on the highway with only one headlight and no AC or heat. We spent the night in Ridgway with a couple of friends of ours, Michael and Darcy (I really need to start taking more pictures of people). Thursday was spent eying the remains of days before ‘striking it rich’ became synonymous with casinos and Lotto. (In the midst of the tailings piles and stamp mills, I subliminally reiterated my wish to travel back to the turn of the 19th century in the form of a bird or some other inconspicuous creature, to observe the daily life of a prospector. That arduous way of life just fascinates me.)

Most of the remainder of Thursday was spent chasing the sun, through bottle-riddled reservation highways lined with vacant jewelry shacks and tumbleweed motels. The thought of another critter-plagued night of driving made the miles peel off like roadkill on hot asphalt, and the gradual downshifting to touristy speeds within Grand Canyon National Park only heightened our anticipation of a good night’s sleep. Traffic was oddly absent from our drive into the park, and navigating the ribbon road with one headlight proved to be difficult, as we passed the unlit gateway to Road E1 three times before I finally had to pull over and locate it on foot. It was barely beyond the width of our Forerunner and marked on either side by inconspicuous boulders. Once on this unmaintained stretch, we chose a flat spot in a bed of pine needles and cones and proceeded to set up camp. Although our run departure time was only a few hours away, I felt compelled to contact Dave and his lady Veener, who were staying at the Yavapai Lodge within Grand Canyon Village. They were relieved to hear that we had arrived safely and warmly welcomed us into their love lair. Entering their room was like arriving at a grazer’s Shangri-La. Almost every horizontal surface was occupied by some sort of healthy foodstuff, and I imagined the four of us lounging around the room, watching the night pass by as all of the comfort foods within arm’s reach are gradually consumed. I hastily drew myself out of this driving-induced funk and accepted a cold glass of water with fervor. Conversations ebbed and flowed, and soon the realization of the impending trek struck hard. It was literally four hours away, and I was nowhere near that sleepy feeling. Eventually, my responsible self won out, and we retreated to the campsite.

Like most competitive runners, I like to arrange my clothes and gear the night before, so that I’m not forced to think about anything but eating and getting dressed the day of the race. In my haste, I’ve left the house without some of the most basic items, including shoes. I swore that would never happen again, and this evening was no exception. Arranging each item in almost an OCD manner, I completed the routine and hesitantly slunk into the tent. I managed to crawl out two more times to add things I had previously forgotten. It was now 11:00 PM. With the alarm clock placed on my pillow next to my head, I miraculously slipped into a wonderful sleep, broken only by the periodic panic that results in checking the display on the alarm. First it was 12:00, then 12:35, then 1:03, and finally 1:19, 1:24, 1:27, 1:28, and 1:29. Why I didn’t just get up at that point, I’ll never know. I suppose I was secretly hoping the alarm would validate my time of arousal. Soon, I was tip-toeing around the campsite, aiming to dress as quickly as possible in the snappy air. Since the gear had been laid out in advance, I was prepared to leave the campsite sooner than I had expected. I took the opportunity to kiss Aspen goodbye and jog to the South Kaibab Trailhead. The route followed the rim, and the warm breath of the canyon occasionally rushed across my skin, as yesterday’s heat rose from the floor below. After about 0.5 mi I arrived at the parking lot to the excited chants of Dave, Chris, and Veener, who made it clear that her involvement would be restricted to ‘You guys are crazy’-type quips. After a few more minutes of stretching and clever chitchat, our months of training were to culminate into a brief moment of pause before descending into the Big Hole.

Coming up, Part II: No lamps required. Dave smells bacon? Why do my shoes smell like ass?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Relative Elevation

I’m currently working on my account of our recent trip to the Grand Canyon, and with so many smaller items attached to one great theme, it will take some time to process everything into print. In the meantime, I have a short anecdote to impart upon you.

As you may know, my wife Aspen and I have just moved into a new home. I’d say that we’ve probably gained about 2,500 feet of elevation in our new digs which has an unobstructed view of Pikes Peak. While we were looking at houses, many flaunted either a view of the Peak or the City of Denver. I remember a brief moment as we stood with our realtor, Chris, on the deck of one home boasting a bird’s-eye vantage of the city skyline. Chris extolled the value in having such a view, whereas I casually mentioned that I much preferred the Pikes Peak vista. As one whom owns a home overlooking the city, he explained that living with that exposure served as a reminder that he had conquered city life. I thought it to be quite a powerful and convictive statement. A couple days ago, I revisited that moment and began to consider why I prefer the view of a great mountain over that of a rising city. Almost immediately, I realized that I needed that view to remind me of how very small I am. I see no reason to dismiss Chris’ motives for where he chooses to live, because I think it’s natural for most to want to watch over something, whether they have just climbed a tree or are standing on the patio of a high-rise loft. However, I do believe it speaks volumes about how we each perceive our position in the Grand Scheme.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Still Here

I had hoped to update this blog on a regular basis. However, a volatile work schedule, combined with moving my wife and family to a new city and training for the Grand Canyon R3, has depleted my free time. I leave tonight for the Big Hole and will return on Sunday with many stories to tell. See you soon.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Observationisms

Upon joining this scene, I began compiling a list of potential blog topics. Instead of concentrating on items directly related to, say, music or running, I hope to broaden the criteria to the lowest common denominator. The most popular blogs have sort of a universal appeal by tackling subjects to which almost anyone can relate, while those dedicated specifically to one subject can only expect to grow as large as their niche. Building such an inventory is the easiest ingredient in maintaining a successful blog. Determining what will be of interest to you is much more difficult, since you may not care that I run on trails or have a kid. But the list continues to grow. Some of these are worth a diatribe, while others are simply spontaneous observations designed to spark some dialogue. I call these morsels Observationisms. I’ll throw one down from time to time. Most of the current crop are simple complaints about how things are done or made, and maybe I’m looking for some enlightenment on a subject I know little or nothing about. After all, doesn't ignorance breed controversy?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

U2 – War, Track 10

I’m fortunate in that I reached such a landmark age without regrets. Instead of ruing over the past, I direct my focus forward. Rather than be envious of what I once was, I’m jealous of the person I hope to become. I know some who have carved themselves a nice rut and react by cheating on their mates or buying a trophy car. Still others retire from their dead-end jobs and die at home because they have no outside interests. Although I don’t have any true misgivings over the choices made over the years, I can cite at least one disappointment borne from the aftermath of those choices – my music ‘career’. I remember years ago being contacted by a talent agency who was fronted a copy of my first album. They envisioned a future too esoteric for my Midwestern laurels, and I chose to decline their offer. Sometime later, the lead singer of a Christian 'NSYNC-type act rang me up, raving about my second CD and looking for a keyboardist to join his band for a long-term residency at Disneyworld. I developed deep-seeded issues with his ego and eventually passed on the opportunity. More recently, I was contacted by the lead singer of a seminal ‘80s band to go on tour in the US and abroad. I would have made the perfect fit – I knew all of the synth parts, and could sing any of the harmonies on key. The singer, whom I had idolized for years, soon learned the depth of my reverence and pursued me even more aggressively. However, I saw this as fulfilling his ambitions and not my own and again skipped on the gig.

I have since ‘retired’ from music to pursue other passions such as trailrunning and my new family. I leave a legacy that lies wholly unfulfilled, with boxes of unsold CDs and half-finished songs that may have spawned even more prospects to turn down. Looking back, I wonder where I would be today if I had said ‘yes’ to any of those opportunities. Someone must have known that my successes were to be found elsewhere. I guess that’s why I’m always looking ahead.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Immortraility

A few weeks ago, my friend Dave and I planned a weekend trail run in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Eldora, Colorado. I was ready to decompress after a stressful workweek and explore an area I had only previously tackled on snowshoes. We decided to open up the casual trek to any interested parties by posting a note on the local trailrunners’ Yahoo group. One person replied by the end of the week - a guy named Kurt. We offered to collect him at the local market in nearby Nederland, and then carpool to the nearby Fourth of July Trailhead. Upon arriving at the parking lot, we noticed a late ‘70s, brick red F-150 with a camper shell and Alaska plates. An unassuming, bespectacled, early-fifties-looking man carrying no water, fuel, or gear popped out from behind the camper, ready to go. We exchanged pleasantries and piled into my ’98 Jetta for a short trip to the trailhead. Along the way, Kurt talked about his last year of gold prospecting in Alaska and various races all of us had completed. He recognized every person we mentioned in conversation, although neither Dave nor I had ever met or heard of Kurt before this day. Soon we were stretching outside of the car with a tentative goal of Arapaho Pass. As our journey veered off-trail into sub-alpine meadows and beyond, our marvel in Kurt’s mountain goat-caliber scrambling prowess reached ethereal proportions. Much of Kurt’s day was spent waiting on us, yet he offered only words of encouragement and at the end of the day remarked how this was one of the best outings he’d ever experienced. Over the next few days, Dave and I retold the tale of this zen-like master to many within our running circles, only to find that many already knew of whom we were describing. The man known as Kurt was actually 62-year-old mountain runner legend Kurt Blumberg, with many trailrunning titles (and anecdotes) to his credit. It seems that his health secret of sleeping on magnets has paid off in a big way.

There are stories of Kurt running the 2001 Zane Grey 50K bottomless and posting decisive age-group wins at the Pikes Peak Marathon and the Imogene Pass Run. I can only imagine the accomplishments and accompanying tales that did not make the trailrunning archives. Here’s to you, Kurt. I hope we can catch-up (to you) again soon.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Matt

I had a friend named Matt in high school. We were both in our school’s ski club and took regular trips to local ‘resorts’ in southern Wisconsin. One such trip was to the behemoth Mt. Olympia, which had been built upon a former landfill. I estimate that it took a total of 7.0 seconds to navigate their toughest run. On this particular day, an enthusiastic group of air catchers had built a disconcertingly steep jump at the bottom of the hill. Trouble is, anyone with foresight would have built it at mid-slope so jumpers could land at an angle and continue on their way without compressing their spines. However, Matt was convinced he could conquer this monstrosity unharmed, unlike the rest of us who lined up along the landing site to witness the carnage. Soon Matt was gathering speed toward the frosty mound. He caught air, caught a glimpse of the sky and executed the perfect landing – on his back. I can remember him gasping out a plea for someone to give him air. Of course, all of us stood there not knowing how to respond while he writhed in the snow. Once he regained composure his concern soon shifted to the obliterated condition of his brother’s ski goggles, and he was sure his brother was gonna kill him. He’s a pastor in Montana now, so I guess that God spared him for a higher purpose.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Faminoia

I had an appointment this morning for a round of bloodletting (or ‘bloodwork’, in nurse-speak), since I have a family history of heart issues and wanted a baseline from which to track my own heart health. If you’re familiar with the process, most clinics require that you fast for twelve hours to ensure that your blood sugar levels are accurate. This wasn’t my first time fasting the night before a such an appointment, and I had always successfully surrendered my platelets on an empty stomach. However, I didn’t take into consideration that previous fasts were manageable before I started running regularly and eating every 2-3 hours.

Last night I ate dinner about 7:30 and hit the trail about 8:30 for a planned eight-mile out-and-back stretch. I was feeling good and decided to extend the O&B an extra mile, for a total of ten miles. When I arrived home, I naturally went for the fridge, hoping to grab a quick snack before jumping into the shower. It was then I realized that the wheels had been set in motion for a potential catastrophe. The shower did nothing to pacify the monster that would become my appetite. Crawling into bed I knew that by falling asleep the disaster would be averted, and those forty winks came mercifully to my rescue. Only when I rolled over to the 2:03 AM on the alarm clock did the pangs of panic begin to surface. It would be another eight or so hours before I could take my next bite. Soon I could feel myself unraveling as the urge to consume a bowl of Lucky Charms became irresistible. With rebellious craze, I leapt out of bed, inhaled the most delectable serving of vitamin-enriched cereal and proceeded to leave a message with my family care clinic that I would be unable to make the appointment. The binge did not end there, as I wrapped up the nighttime feast with a Power Bar (yes, I even eat these for fun!) and a few savory gulps of ice-cold milk. Defiantly satiated, I slipped back under the covers for a restful sleep. I wonder what my sugar intake would have done to those tests.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Trail to the Holy Grail

I started running in September 2005 after the release of my last album. By then I had almost bottomed out on my mental and physical health and needed something to pull me out of the downward spiral. This came after years of proclaiming to everyone within earshot that I hated jogging and would never take up the sport. But I soon connected with Colorado’s thriving trailrunning culture, where the creative planner could run at least one trail race per week, if crazy enough (see Bernie Boettcher). Colorado claims thousands of miles of trails, and I’ve hiked many of these in the Front Range and beyond. I entered my first race as a competitor in February 2006, finishing in the 69th percentile on a 10-mile paved course. Crossing the finish line, the hook was set. I spent the rest of 2006 entering anything I could manage, with increasingly impressive results. I found that my hiking experience paid off in the uphill courses, as I posted strong finishes at the Mt. Evans Ascent (86th percentile), Pikes Peak Ascent (93rd percentile), and Imogene Pass Run (94th percentile). I still get beaten soundly by guys (and gals) who are 10+ years my senior. However, this is encouraging since it shows me that my best years of running lie ahead. I don’t fill my race calendar like I used to, only because it gets expensive, and I’d rather focus my training on the larger events. I have my first marathon in a couple weeks (more about that later), a ‘Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim’ run at the Grand Canyon (or, ‘R3’) planned for the last weekend of October, and my first ultra (The Kettle Moraine 100K) in June 2008. Hope to see you on the trails someday!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bigfoot Sighting

I had a friend in highschool and college named Bob. He had unusually large feet and wore size 17.5 basketball shoes. I'm not sure about the proported correlation between big feet and a certain sexual organ, but I do know that he once received an anonymous Father's Day card.

Apologies to Matt Damon

The idea for this post arrived as I was watching last night’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live. I usually mute the first 30 seconds of the show because Robert Goulet’s vocals in the opening theme song are so horribly flat that I suffer physical pain every time I hear them. I lay there wondering how both the engineer and producer could allow such a dreadful overdub to make its way into the bedrooms of the millions who watch this wildly-popular show. My guess is that they were afraid to offend the legendary Mr. Goulet by asking for another take, or they simply could not afford one. What would Randy Jackson say about this performance?

I began to contemplate why I find such dissonance so offensive, when it can pass effortlessly through the ear canals of a trained professional. I can only offer the suggestion that my reaction is a genetic predisposition. I’ve always told people that I have perfect pitch, but after doing a bit of research, I found that what I possess is actually relative pitch. I play by ear, so I would have difficulty naming a note based upon its pitch, but I can tell which strings are out of tune on a guitar just by hearing a chord being strummed. Wikipedia says that relative pitch is a learned behavior, but says nothing about the discomfort associated with hearing mistuned instruments or voices. I know of at least two in my family who share this same trait. We squint our eyes and tilt our head hoping to magically bend that sour note back into place. It never works.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Infant Nicknames

I have three sisters, all whom have young children branded with infantile petnames – ‘The Boobus’, ‘Birdy’, ‘Dudes’, etc. As I'm notorious for giving nicknames to almost everyone I know, my family was assured that our firstborn son, Nicholas, would get the budweiser of all nicknames.

Admittedly, I have to credit Nick for creating his own moniker. Upon his first breath of sterile hospital air, he didn’t really wail like the babies I had seen on TV or in movies. He popped out, his mouth opened wide, his face got red, and then this pitiful little cry spewed forth that sounded something like ‘unGUYYYYYYYY, unGUYYYYYYYY’. We were later relieved to learn that he really didn’t cry much at all. And on those rare occasions when his fussiness would begin to escalate, that cry soon became our own personal noun, as in, ‘Uh, oh, I think I hear an unGuy coming’ or ‘Did you get any unGuys today?’ which rapidly morphed into ‘I think unGuy had a blowout' or ‘How long’s unGuy been asleep?’ We grasped in vain at any sense of a nickname that would keep his masculinity intact. We threw ‘Dude’, ‘Big Guy’, ‘Bud’ at him. Nothing stuck. Sorry, unGuy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Run, Funkylegs. Run!

I suppose I should explain the name Funkylegs. This is a self-imposed nickname derived from my unique, shall I say, ‘gait’. My mom was reportedly quite small when she became pregnant shortly before her twenty-first birthday. She claims she was about 110 lbs and packed on at least eighty more during her pregnancy. Apparently the womb was too tiny for my gangly frame (I’m 6’3” now), and my legs were sort of pretzeled in there. As an infant, I was severely pigeon-toed, so my legs were often fixed to this metal apparatus that pointed them in the right direction, as in, straight ahead. I remember once sitting in the kid’s seat on the back of my dad’s bicycle and getting my feet caught in the spokes. Later as a middle-schooler, a certain classmate teased me relentlessly about the way one leg sort of swung out and the other swung in as I walked to my classes. Once in college, a girl asked me how I had injured my leg after seeing me walk towards her on campus. I’m sure there are many more memories like these, but they're likely victims of selective amnesia.

I’ve grown accustomed to the way in which I walk. In fact, I married a girl with similar issues. We’ve always joked about having a kid with legs that are either really messed up or completely straight, as our impediments sort of canceled each other out (thankfully, he was born with normal legs, although I suspect he’ll be a bit bowlegged). I took up running, and those unnatural movements don’t seem to be affecting my knees or finishing times. When I see a child in a wheelchair or a man taking an elevator up one floor, I’m grateful I can walk at all.